Thursday, January 27, 2011

More than a Tree?

Heavy, wet snow finally took some limbs I couldn't reach with the telescoping pruning saw late last year. Somehow, the kids simple swing is still holding on. When was the last time a child sat on it? I don't know, but we've told them not to because of the weak limb.

The husband of the former owner of the house died pruning this tree, we were told by a sentimental neighbor. At one point, the tree was so unruly that it was topped, and has long since resumed its posture. Standing between the front of our house and the western horizon, it is the house's cooling shade from spring through autumn---and morning shade for our neighbors across the street. Of course, every fall it swamps the lawn with shed leaves and branches that we are still cleaning up in spring. Is it odd that we don't think about that while we're burning the fallen limbs in the fire pit in the fall. Since nothing grows beneath it, there's no lawn to maintain; but, the rains rolling through erode the hill on which the house sits. Perhaps the roots hold together what remains, but perhaps someday they'll encroach upon the pipes and foundation. Any impulsive thoughts to remove the tree are easily countered by the expense and homeowner association paperwork process that have to be readied beforehand.

This is a perfectly precarious balance: with a determined thought in either direction, this tree stands or falls with all of the pros and cons that result; but absent a compelling desire, the consequences either way are clear.

Such a big deal, this old tree, so much more than the its limbs are attached to it by so many people, weighing it down... So many different things beside its roots are keeping it standing, perfectly balanced, ready to fall.

What isn't like this?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Chasing Results

I don't remember exactly what it was like watching my kids discover their fingers and toes--beyond sucking thumbs, seeing the hands and somehow realizing that they control them, and seeing the feet as something foreign then grabbing them for a taste.. Not long afterward, babies reach out and grab things that are not the babies themselves. Later, crying brings Mommy to the rescue and squealing makes Daddy have a funny face. And so it goes... Off in that way, maybe they will reminisce about their own kids doing the same.

Is there ultimately anything that is not like this, responding to what we sense or think? If there is, can you tell me what it is without it being in response to my question?

So I heard a generous teacher say that he is bothered by a selfish student. The student takes, takes, takes while the teacher gives, gives, gives. Whenever he looks for his own understanding, the teacher never sees its reflection. What is happening here? What is his complaint? What is my response?

Perhaps someday he will "evolve" and consider the long view. Who knows how a student may someday be affected by the teacher? Perhaps eventually, unnoticed, the student will develop the right view. But doing this today so that someday he might do that? Is this any different?

Is there no escape?

I don't know what he may have told Jos├ęphine about reason for his every breath, but I once heard that each of us today has likely inhaled air that Napoleon had exhaled. I can't say for certain, but I doubt he mentioned me.

Can you break that feedback loop? Would it be wrong to try because I asked?

What if you succeeded? Perhaps then you could tell me the meaning underlying these words:

If there's a reason I breathe, I don't know what it is.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fill in the Blanks -- Cause & Effect, Part 2

Long after the events have passed, I look back and ask, "What was the meaning?"

Closer to the time of the story, I cast myself as the hero. Hardships endured were sacrifices for a greater good; rewards earned were trophies justifying my effort. The people around me who agreed were friends and brought closer; the people who did not were adversaries and distanced. What fell away from me in my pursuit did not belong; what came to me and stayed with me did.

Later, in a new situation, a cast of people just like this are potentially my adversaries. Looking back again, I ask, "What was the meaning?" This time I see that I was an ass. Inconsiderate, unyielding, there was only my way. What more we all could have created together if only I had found a way to engender some cooperation. Look how I had impacted the lives of others negatively in my selfish pursuit and in gratifying my ego...

Two views of one story: which is the better?

There are two different minds shown reflected in one single story from the past. Given the circumstances, the mind works to complete the picture, to fill in the blanks, to interpret, to judge, to assign meaning. Is it any different than considering a poem twice, once while happy, once while saddened?

How is any moment different than this?

What meaning can any story have absent our own contribution? Can you see your mind contributing? Can you distinguish between what your mind adds and what is actually there?

The very next thought or the very next action may be rooted in your last state of mind. So, how much of it is "real"?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


We follow the path of least resistance, even when it is insurmountable, even when there are easier paths around or through. Sometimes the most difficult and most important thing is to stop and see this.

On retreat, perhaps at first you see what you are doing: I am meditating long hours; I am practicing with the koans; I am doing something different. Perhaps next you notice what you are not doing: I am not posting all of the time; I am not slacking off there; I am not scratching that itch; I am not following my habits. At first, maybe there is "I have left" and later there is "I have returned."

Perhaps finally, though, in spite of all of the thinking and doing, in spite of all of the not thinking or not doing, the difficult path was a round trip in which you never left home at all.

How could you?